After retooling much of their roster last offseason, the Atlanta Hawks have another huge personnel decision to make coming up. That would be what to do with Josh Smith, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. While Smith is arguably the Hawks' most talented player, Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears reports that "expectations are growing" that Atlanta will trade Smith before the Feb. 21 deadline.
Now why would a team that's smack dab in the playoff hunt trade their most talented player?
Well, a big reason is that the Hawks may not want to pay Smith the max contract that he will almost certainly be looking for. The forward said last week he felt he deserved a max deal, which would go as high as $94 million over five years. That's a huge investment for an inconsistent player who has a lot of NBA miles on him.
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When you look at Smith's numbers on the surface, they usually look rather impressive. And that's no different this season. He's averaging 16.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.2 blocks on the year, which is pretty darn good.
The issue is when you look at the shooting numbers, which of course is related to his very questionable shot selection. Smith is at 44.8 percent on the season, and his true shooting percentage is at a career-low 47.9 percent. He continues to inexplicably shoot a ton of long two, despite the fact that's he's not any good at them (28.3 percent from 16-23 feet). Throw in the fact that he's also shooting under 30 percent from three and under 50 percent from the free throw line, and you have a player that's hard to completely rely on.
Can the Hawks really invest their future in a player who often makes his home crowd audibly groan when he fires up ill-advised long twos? Or a player who was recently suspended for getting into it with coach Larry Drew? Atlanta will have plenty of money to spend this offseason, so it's not like they can't afford it, but it just may not be the smartest move to throw a max deal at Smith.
If the Hawks are not prepared to put a max contract on the table, Smith may walk and they lose a valuable asset for nothing. Since that's not really a good way to run a team, trading him before the deadline makes perfect sense. It's not like the Hawks are title contenders anyway, so getting a little worse this season while getting some younger talent and perhaps some draft picks would certainly not be the worst thing in the world.